GELF Testimony DEC Norlite Hearing on Hazardous Fly Ash

Testimony of the Green Education and Legal Fund
to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
on the Permit Modification for Norlite LLC
November 20, 2023 – Cohoes NY

My name is Mark Dunlea, and I am chairperson of the Green Education and Legal Fund, GELF is the fiscal sponsor of Lights Out Norlite. We are also party to the lawsuit filed by the N.Y.S. Attorney General and DEC against Norlite for being a public nuisance. Norlite is a major public health and environmental problem for Cohoes residents and throughout the region and should be shut down.

We speak today in favor of the proposed modification of Norlite LLC’s permit by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) By notice dated August 31, 2023, DEC staff advised Norlite that the Department was modifying Norlite’s Part 373 RCRA hazardous waste permit (RCRA permit) pursuant to 6 NYCRR 621.13(a)(4) due to a material change in applicable regulations. The permit modification removed the references and requirements associated with a repealed regulatory exclusion (Bevill amendment) that previously classified Norlite’s air pollution control dust derived from the combustion of hazardous waste as solid waste, allowing such hazardous materials to be sold for public use rather than being safely disposed as the hazardous waste it is.

We strongly support such permit modification to bring Norlite into compliance with federal and state law on the handling of such hazardous materials. We note that such modification should have occurred three years before when the law was first changed by DEC and EPA. We note that in the recent audit of DEC’s air monitoring program by the NYS Comptroller’s officer, DEC asserted that it always requires companies with expired permits to comply with new regulations. Unfortunately, there has been a three-year delay in the situation by DEC, which has threatened the public health and environment.

The incineration of hazardous waste produces fly ash, flue gas emission control waste, and slag (collectively referred to as “ash” here). Toxic ash may contain chemicals and heavy metals such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, and nickel, which are all potentially toxic to humans and are known to cause or contribute to cancer, lung and heart ailments, liver and kidney damage, neurological damage, and premature mortality.

Toxic ash may also contain mineralogical toxins such as fine crystalline silica when the feedstock to the industrial process contains silica. Fine particulate crystalline silica induces silicosis when inhaled and is a known respiratory health risk. It is also a World Health Organization Group 1 respiratory carcinogen. Hazardous waste ash may be inhaled and become lodged in the deepest parts of the human respiratory system, leading to potentially fatal inflammation and immunological reactions.

While Norlite may wish to dispute how dangerous it is to mix these hazardous materials with other building products, state and federal regulators have determined that it is unsafe for the environment and public health.

Norlite mixes the toxic ash from the pollution control equipment with its aggregate product (from shale) and sells it as a product to the building industry called “block mix.” Such products erode over time as well as can be damaged during use or renovations. For instance, roads need to be reconstructed, or repaired, and the old road debris that needs to be removed contains elevated levels of toxic substances. Workers, nearby residents, and the general public may also be exposed to these toxic materials through the relatively unsafe procedures Norlite utilizes in the production, distribution and storage of this toxic material.

Norlite stores block mix in massive, uncovered piles, which seep into the water and soil, and blow all over as fugitive dust. The Attorney General alleges that Norlite emits 56 tons of fugitive dust into the surrounding community every year. This dust comes from the block mix pile, as well as from enormous piles of aggregate (which contains carcinogenic silicates).

NYS Department of Health data shows that there is a respiratory cancer cluster near Norlite. Norlite is certainly a likely contributor to the problem. Local residents are exposed to dust from massive piles of both aggregate and the ash.

The State recently adopted a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of New York residents to clean air and water. It is long past time for the state to protect residents from the various toxic impacts of the Norlite hazardous waste incinerator and aggregate production facility. Making them comply with state and federal law to safely dispose of the hazardous waste material collected through their pollution control devices is what is known as a no brainer.